By Christian Viveros-Fauné
By Miriam Felton-Dansky
By Tom Sellar
By Tom Sellar
By Jessica Dawson
By Tom Sellar
By R. C. Baker
By Tom Sellar
In the old days of the Voice, there were battles and they were sorted out in the pages of the paper, which was more entertaining, the letters section. Now, especially with the way that Twitter is structured, if you haven't been following the whole thread, you don't even know quite what the argument is about because you have to go all the way back to the origin, and even then you might not understand. I think there has been a great splintering of attention, and splintering of time, and I'm guilty of it too.
How did starting your career at The Village Voice shape the way you think?
It taught me what works with readers and what doesn't. There was a lot of great immediate feedback from Voice readers. You could tell right away whether or not you were connecting. I mention in the book how it taught me how you gotta really start a piece off with a bang. Not a gimmicky opening, but you've got to make the reader care at the very outset for what you're doing. And another thing, because there were such different types [of people] at the Voice, you just saw that there were so many different ways of working and sensibilities. Everyone had talent, and the talents were so varied that one writer may not be able to do what you did, but you couldn't do what they did.
And then just the incubator atmosphere of the Voice. It really prepared me for the blog world in a way that a lot of people weren't prepared. Voice people got in each other's faces a lot. There was a lot of arguments. Yelling fits. There were feuds that went on and people didn't talk to each other. It kept things bustling. I took that like that's the way it worked everywhere, but then when I eventually went to other magazines, I was like, "Wow, everyone is being so cordial and polite." It wasn't that people were rude at the Voice, they were just much more direct and much more likely to say what's off the top of their head. When I went to magazines, everyone was a lot more cautious about what they said. It prepared me for the blog world because a lot of it made me feel like, "Oh, I've been through this before." I knew writers who hadn't been through the Voice experience, and when they went online and went through a [onslaught] of hostility.
The Voice also prepared me for just taking things as they come. One of the great things about the Voice was that they didn't box you in and say, "You're this type of writer," or, "You're this type of critic." I was able to write about theater, books, TV, and rock music. Now it's like, if you're a rock critic, or a theater critic, that's what you do.
Why is that specific focus harmful?
Because the arts really do bleed into each other. One of the things that really hurt certain rock writers is that rock is all they knew. They didn't know theater. They didn't know what else fed into it. There are a lot of movie critics, and movies is all they know, and spend their free time watching more movies. Pauline Kael could compare images to certain paintings, or talk about the soundtrack. But critics now, every movie relates to another movie, and that's the extent of the context.
You used the phrase "Voice Person." There has been a lot of public discussion over the past few months as to what that term means.
To me, it was having a very individual, literal voice. The writers didn't all sound like each other. There wasn't an institutional voice. People used to talk about how, even if a writer had a very distinct voice, once they got through the New Yorker editing process, it had been so muted and shaped and molded. Voice writers were much more independent minded, feisty, not as careerist. I don't know as many Voice writers now, just the few who have held on, but there is still great reporting pieces in the Voice. It's not the Voice's fault that the advertising model just completely changed. It hurt everybody.
What are your thoughts on the corporate restructuring of The Village Voice?
I don't really know about it. I've been doing this whole thing with the renovation and moving out. I've been getting a sense of it on Twitter. My knowledge of it comes with whatever somebody was let go, there was always great mourning, like when Hoberman was let go. But then I look at it, and it's like, well, Hoberman is all over the place now. He's writing everywhere. He's not marooned. I've noticed a lot of hostility on Twitter, people who say things like, "How could these other film critics write for the Voice given what's happened?" And it's like, well, they have to write somewhere! I never try to deny anybody an outlet or opportunity to write. All I know is that [Tricia Romano] started a Twitter thing about it, but I couldn't keep up with it. And also, I don't want to hear people bemoaning and beating the people who are there and are still trying to make it work.